One-half of the Righteous Brothers, singer Bill Medley purveyed some of the deepest blue-eyed soul music of the 1960s with such iconic singles as "(You've Lost) That Lovin' Feeling," "Unchained Melody," "(You're my) Soul and Inspiration" before enjoying considerable solo success in 1987 with "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," the Oscar-winning song from "Dirty Dancing." Medley's deep, resonant baritone offered bluesy counterpoint to Bobby Hatfield's crystalline falsetto on the Righteous Brothers' material, which ranged from garage rockers to the epic sweep of "Lovin' Feeling." Their interplay was so perfectly tuned that Medley's solo efforts following the group's breakup in 1968 seemed to suffer without Hatfield's contributions. He finally found the perfect vehicle for his talents outside of the Righteous Brothers in "The Time of My Life," a joyous, declaratory duet with Jennifer Warnes that topped the charts in 1987 while also claiming a Grammy and Golden Globe. The song's acclaim, as well as the use of and re-release of "Unchained Melody" in the film "Ghost" (1990), returned Medley to the spotlight, where he divided his time between Righteous Brothers reunions until Hatfield's death in 2003 and solo shows on the club circuit. As a member of one of rock's most gifted vocal duos, as well as a veteran solo singer, Bill Medley remained one of popular music's most soulful practitioners for over five decades.
Born Sept. 19, 1940 in Los Angeles, William Thomas Medley's interest in music was a natural extension of his family life in the Orange County suburb of Santa Ana, where his father was a bandleader and saxophonist and his mother sang and played piano. Medley himself began singing at an early age, first with his church choir and then with his high school glee club and in amateur talent competitions. Early R&B figures like Little Richard and Ray Charles shifted his focus towards rock-n-roll, which prompted Medley to launch his own group, the Paramours. In 1962, he was introduced to Bobby Hatfield, a Wisconsin native who fronted his own vocal group, the Variations. The combination of Medley's soulful baritone and Hatfield's soaring tenor proved potent and promising, and the pair soon began performing together as a new version of the Paramours. According to Medley, they adopted their moniker after being dubbed "righteous brothers" by African-American disc jockeys.
In 1963, the pair signed with the small independent label Moonglow Records, which released two albums and a handful of singles, including the Medley-penned and produced "Little Latin Lupe Lu" (1963), which reached No. 49 on the Billboard singles chart. Its success attracted the attention of television producer Jack Good, who hired them to appear on the premiere episode of his teen-oriented variety series "Shindig!" (ABC, 1964-66). The exposure afforded Medley and Hatfield national exposure, which in turn led to their signing with producer Phil Spector's Phillies label. Their first release with Spector, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" (1964), was not only a massive hit, reaching No. 1 on both the U.S. and U.K. singles charts, but also served as the height of Spector's creative achievements as a producer. The song, which clocked in at over four minutes in length, pushed the limits of accepted running times for pop songs, and the orchestral sweep of arranger Gene Page's orchestrations ran in direct opposition to the raw sounds of the British Invasion, which dominated the charts at the time. "Lovin' Feeling" would later be named by BMI as the song with more radio and television airplay in the United States than any other tune in the 20th century.
Medley and Hatfield would enjoy three additional Top 10 hits in 1965 under Spector's aegis, including "Just Once in My Life" and their enduring, haunting "Unchained Melody." But they soon soured of the producer's domineering ways, and left Phillies for a lucrative contract with Verve in 1966. Medley produced their next big hit, "(You're my) Soul and Inspiration," which successfully reproduced Spector's "Wall of Sound" production style. The single became their second No. 1 hit, but subsequent efforts, including a cover of Al Hibbler's "He" (1966) and "Go Ahead and Cry" failed to achieve the same heights of popularity as their first release for Verve. Medley eventually left the act in 1968, while Hatfield kept the Righteous Brothers active for a brief period with Jimmy Walker of the Knickerbockers. Medley's solo career enjoyed a pair of Top 40 hits in 1969 with "Peace, Brother, Peace" and "Brown Eyed Woman," but by 1974, he had reunited with Hatfield for "Rock and Roll Heaven" (1974), a tribute to deceased rock and pop stars like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin which reached No. 3 on the singles chart. However, this surprise hit was soon overshadowed by the murder of Medley's ex-wife, Karen Klaas, in 1976, prompting the singer to retire from performing for the next half-decade to raise their son, Darrin, who later sang with Paul Revere and the Raiders.
In the early '80s, Medley returned to music, refashioning himself as a country artist and earning four Top 50 tracks on that chart between 1982 and 1985. Two years later, he enjoyed the biggest hit of his career since his days with the Righteous Brothers with "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," the closing theme for the motion picture "Dirty Dancing" (1987). Recorded with Jennifer Warnes, the song topped both the pop and adult contemporary charts and claimed not only the 1987 Academy Award for Best Song, but also the Golden Globe for Best Original Song and the Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals in 1988. The success of the song, as well as revived interest in the Righteous Brothers through inclusion of "Lovin' Feelin'" and "Unchained Melody" on the soundtracks for "Top Gun" (1986) and "Ghost" (1990), respectively, led to a reunion with Hatfield as a popular attraction on the oldies concert circuit. There were also more soundtrack assignments, including themes for "Major League" and the sitcom "Just the Ten of Us" (ABC, 1988-1990).
Medley continued to balance his duties with Hatfield in the Righteous Brothers with solo efforts into the new millennium. However, their reunion came to an unfortunate end in November of 2003 when Hatfield died of heart failure due to cocaine ingestion less than 10 months after the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Medley soldiered on, performing on the casino and club circuit while also maintaining a regular presence in Branson, MO, where he frequently performed with his daughter, McKenna. In 2007, he received positive reviews for Damn Near Righteous, a collection of original material and eclectic covers, including Bob Dylan's "Just Like a Woman" and the Beach Boys' "In My Room," which featured harmony vocals by Brian Wilson and Phil Everly.
By Paul Gaita